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Low Price E-bikes Can Come at a Steep Cost

E-Bikes are here to stay.

E-bikes are incredible. They are the future. They can replace car trips and use far less energy than alternatives. They can even realistically be charged at home with rooftop solar panels. As with all new inventions, they are still poorly understood, badly regulated, and the market is full of new companies with shoddy products.

How much should I spend on an e-bike?

Generally, I would not recommend ever buying an e-bike for less than $2,000. If you’re doing it well, bikes are not cheap to design and build. Companies like Trek and Specialized spend years designing and testing new models before a bike is released. But with the increased in interest in e-bikes, dozens of companies have popped up (mostly online) to rush e-bikes to market that are slapped together by people with limited bike design knowledge.

Bicycles are beautiful, simple machines. The frame supports the rider. The wheels move the bike forward. The handlebars steer. A human provides the propulsion. Brakes stop the bike. The only change on an e-bike in this design is that the propulsion is provided, or assisted, by an electric motor. This adds significant weight, but also means the bike is going to be traveling a lot faster a lot more of the time. Not only do you need better brakes, but you will wear through them significantly faster.

Look for a good bike, not a good deal.

When I started seeing e-bikes for $1,000 or under, my first thought was “how is this possible?” A reasonably powerful electric motor and battery from a reputable manufacturer like Bafang can cost $500. The low-cost e-bike companies necessarily must cut corners. They do this in a few different ways.

The first is they use open-source frames and off the shelf parts. Where big bike companies are custom building and designing their bike frames, cheap e-bikes use available frame specs from manufacturers overseas. Instead of tailoring the components to the bike, they just use what is available. It makes perfect sense, but only if you’ve never built a bike before. I have regularly seen cheap e-bikes that have mismatched parts where the brake pull of the lever does not match the amount of cable pull required by the caliper. Over time this will result in brake failure. I have also routinely seen e-bikes where the brake pads do not make full contact with the brake rotor. As the brake pads wear out, they will fail to make contact with the brake rotor at all, resulting in brakes that are purely cosmetic but apply no stopping power.

The second clear cost cutting measure is using mechanical disc brakes. Hydraulic brakes have become the norm in high end mountain bikes where riders need to be able to stop on a dime even over the gnarliest terrain. Mechanical brakes may still work just fine for light weight road bikes, mountain bikes are much heavier. E-bikes are far heavier still. Putting mechanical disc brakes on an e-bike will save dollars, not lives.

If you have been injured by a defectively designed or built e-bike, reach out for a free consultation with an attorney. If you’re looking at a bike and unsure whether it seems safe, reach out and I’m happy to give you my thoughts.

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